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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 548

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (17:43): I want to make four points. In the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party we are strong supporters of the need to invest in infrastructure—infrastructure of all kinds that becomes productive and adds to our wealth. But I am very doubtful about this Labor motion. As a 17-year-old I can remember Gough Whitlam saying at the end of his first year that he had spent $50 million on Aboriginal people in Australia, and he proudly boasted that that was double the expenditure of the last 12 months of the previous government under William McMahon. He implied that by spending more it benefited the people. We see now that that welfare, according to many Aboriginal people, has effectively hurt Aboriginal communities. So the spending of money does not necessarily translate into beneficial spending or investing in people or infrastructure. It is the quality of spending of taxpayer funds that matters, not the quantity. That means we need cost-benefit analysis to justify any expenditure, and what I have seen in the brief period that I have been here—three months—is that there is very little, if any, cost-benefit analysis used. Quite often we see spending used as window-dressing to promote fantasies, to promote propaganda and to promote reputations. That is the first point: spending does not necessarily translate into effective spending.

The second point I raise is that competitive federalism is at the heart of our Constitution. The states are responsible for transport and transport infrastructure. Unfortunately, we have gone so far away from our Constitution that competitive federalism is dying. The Commonwealth has made a mess of education. The Commonwealth has made a mess of health and a mess of the environmental stewardship. Those are just to name a few. We need to give back taxation to the states and let them be responsible for spending, and then we will have far greater accountability—instead of the Commonwealth raising all the funds. We need to restore our Constitution.

This reminds me of a very effective mayor that I met recently while travelling in south-west outback Queensland. Tyson Golder, from the Maranoa Regional Council, is the mayor at Roma. He became mayor on a ticket of handing the power back to the councils, back to the local shires, and that is difficult under the state government laws. But that is something he is working on. He has councillors who have their positions as a result of the amalgamation, so they are hanging onto the power. Nonetheless, we need to do what he is doing—taking the regional council and sending the decisions back to the people in the shire councils. We need to do the same—take what is currently used at the federal government level and move it back to the states. Of course, the federation was formed with the idea of protecting the smaller states that cannot raise the funds. That is a legitimate need, and that has to be addressed, but we need to restore responsibility and accountability in the state governments and let them fund.

The third point I want to make is that South Australia and Victoria now illustrate what is happening under the 'spend, spend, spend without accountability' reputation of these states. The lights have gone out in South Australia, and the last thing we need is a Commonwealth government to bail them out. Now we are talking about massive federal control, or federal oversight, over energy, which is the last thing we need. Queensland has the world's best and cleanest coal, and yet the Palaszczuk government, another Labor government, is shutting down the coal industry. It refuses to invest in coal-fired power stations when we need that. It is the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity, the most stable and the most secure, and the Palaszczuk government, sitting on a treasure-trove of coal, will not use it. We have seen the South Australian Labor government dynamite their last coal-fired power station and shut down their coalmines. We have seen them rely on Victoria, yet Victoria now wants to shut down its Hazelwood plant, so then everyone from South Australia and Victoria will be needing power from Queensland and New South Wales, which will drive up our prices. We need to stop this stupidity, and we must not continue to subsidise stupid state behaviour, fraudulent and dishonest state behaviour, irresponsible state behaviour that is hurting the citizens of South Australia and Victoria.

We have seen Labor states spend money on desalination plants. This is my fourth point. Those plants, with the exception of one of them, have never been used. We have spent billions of dollars—I believe the figure is around $10 billion—and they have never been used. We have achieved nothing. That is not investment in the future; that is waste. If we do not get a return on our investment, if we have nothing to show for it, then we will go broke. But we will have the Greens parroting on about renewable energy and water from desalination plants that never materialises.

We need to fix the systems in this parliament to ensure accountability and to stop the waste of funding. Instead of speaking to sell, more politicians in this building need to listen to learn. Instead of using taxpayer funds as bidding on an auction for a reputation for votes, we need to restore accountability and cost-benefit analysis. We need to restore competitive federalism. We want productive spending that is investment, so I do not accept the Labor Party's motion that we need to increase spending. The Turnbull government, for all its many ills and shortcomings, cannot be labelled incompetent or lacking simply because it has not spent enough money in the Labor Party's eyes, because they are spendthrift eyes. I disagree with the Labor Party motion.

Question agreed to.